Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible
Manifold Greatness: Contemporary and historic images, interactive timelines, galleries, kids' games and activities, audio, and video tell the story of one of the most widely-known books in the English language.The Folger Shakespeare Library launched the website Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible in April 2011. The website is a major component of the NEH-funded Manifold Greatness exhibition project, a collaboration between the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Manifold Greatness also includes exhibitions at the Bodleian Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Harry Ransom Center (through July 2012); a book; public programs; a Folger Institute conference; and a touring panel exhibition, produced by the Folger in collaboration with the American Library Association, which will travel to forty U.S. library host sites through mid-2013. Portions of the website have also been displayed as on-site interactive displays for visitors to the Bodleian, Folger, Ransom Center, and panel exhibition host sites.
The King James Bible, which marked its 400th anniversary in 2011, is one of the most famous books in the English language. In addition to its religious role, examples of its literary, cultural, and social influence are almost countless—among them, the works of John Milton, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsburg, and Herman Melville, the words of Handel's Messiah, the Apollo 8 astronauts' reading of Genesis from lunar orbit, Linus's recital of the Nativity story in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington.
Paradoxically, however, the story of the King James Bible itself is largely unknown. Through this website and related exhibitions and other projects, Manifold Greatness tells the human story of the King James Bible, organized as a three-part narrative that includes the centuries of earlier English Bibles—dangerous projects that risked, and sometimes lost, the translators' lives; the lengthy process of translation and printing that produced the King James Bible; and the King James Bible's subsequent, expansive role. Organized according to those three eras—before, during, and after the translation of the King James Bible—the website uses new videos, interactive timelines, image galleries, audio-based features, and other formats to engage different audiences with different preferred learning styles.
A separate Kids Zone (http://www.manifoldgreatness.org/kids/) within the site offers children and families original online activities and games (with new audio, artwork, and animation), including a virtual printing press and a "scavenger hunt" to gather a translator's supplies; original videos; and a stand-alone family guide. The website also offers suggested links, recommended reading, and scholarly finding aids to the Folger and Ransom Center rare book collections.
From its inception, Manifold Greatness was designed to include social media and a Manifold Greatness blog, which launched by April 2011. Social media content includes a Twitter feed (@manifoldgr8ness) with multiple tweets a week, a Manifold Greatness Facebook page with regular posts, photography, and updates, a Flickr presence with multiple Manifold Greatness photo sets, and a Manifold Greatness YouTube channel that includes Folger Shakespeare Library videos for the project and a playlist of Manifold Greatness videos by local host sites.
The Manifold Greatness blog has included many posts from Folger exhibition curators Hannibal Hamlin and Steve Galbraith and others, including Boston University professor and former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky. This round-up of the ten most popular 2011 posts provides a good sampling: http://manifoldgreatness.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/from-graceland-to-shakespeares-globe-our-top-10-blog-posts-of-2011/. Posts from local panel exhibition host sites are a growing, valuable aspect of the blog. Through the blog and social media, Manifold Greatness has, in effect, sparked a threeway conversation among those who organized the major exhibitions; the staff members, volunteers, and visitors to the forty U.S. host sites for the traveling exhibition; and interested members of the public.
Designing a site with such diverse elements, goals, and audiences was a challenge well-met by Swim Design Consultants of Kensington, Maryland. (Other key players on the website are named on the Sponsors & Credits page: http://www.manifoldgreatness.org/index.php/sponsors-and-credits/ ).
To avoid a quaint or antiquarian feeling, the website design is deliberately, though not obtrusively, modern in its choices of font treatments, colors, and other elements. The diversity of the content, including images from multiple centuries, videos, audio, and interactive features, required a versatile template which could be adapted to almost any content while retaining a distinct identity.
Clear organization and navigation were especially important to the design of this website because of the volume and diversity of content and variety of audiences, including visitors, scholars, and families. Each page provides a clear sense of its place within the website and easy navigation to any other part of the site. Navigation is also as "flat" as possible, to avoid too many clickthrough layers.
Users with specific interests may also explore the site more surgically using the "search" function available on all pages of the site. Two sets of FAQs, one more general, the other focused on debunking King James Bible myths, offer another point of entry, suggesting multiple links within the website at the end of each FAQ answer. Throughout the site, video and audio are accompanied by transcripts, making the content both more accessible and more searchable.